Africa “Zou Chu Qu,” Chinese for “Swarm Out”
Is Africa equipped to join the rest of the world and be accounted as worthwhile? Can its nations have vibrant economies, or are they condemned to perpetual poverty, political and economic insignificance, “Kundun” is a 1997 film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Melissa Mathison. It is based on the life and writing of the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s exiled political and spiritual leader. In the film, the young Dalai Lama is asked, what are the causes of suffering? He looks thoughtfully at a rat drinking water from a goblet, and answers; firstly, one understands that he/she causes much of his/her own suffering needlessly.
Secondly, he/she looks for the reasons for this in his/her own life. To look is to have confidence in his/her own ability to end the suffering. Finally, a wish arises to find a path to peace because all beings desire happiness; all wish to find their pure selves.
Each day, you are likely to read or view a report that a far-flung foreign entity; government, aid agency, group and even individuals are going to partner with Nigeria, pledged or donated several billion Naira to tackle one shortfall or another in Nigeria. Commendable, but against the backdrop of these unending reports, here are the facts; in Nigeria if you want a steady supply of electricity, buy a generator. Regarding roads, you are at the mercy of the potholes and whatever else maybe out there. Alluding to safe drinking water, there are no guarantees, and the list goes on.
Objectively, it could be argued that it took the Highly Developed Countries (HDCs) many years to get to where they are today, but considering the gains made by many African countries since independence, one can only wonder what is inherently wrong with Africa? According to reports in 2006, the European Commission intended to launch the Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF) with a contribution of up to 80 million euro over 4 years, starting with 15 million euro. Purportedly, the GEEREF is a 100 million euro global risk capital fund proposed by the European Commission to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in emergent countries. Set up in 2007 as a global public-private partnership offering new risk sharing and co-funding options for various commercial and non-commercial investors, the scheme would support regional funds for sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific Island States, Latin America, Asia, North Africa and other European Union (EU) neighbouring countries. European Commission’s Environment Commissioner said the GEEREF underlines the Commission’s commitment to assist emergent nations invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will bring clean, secure and affordable energy supplies to the 1.6 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity. His colleague, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said lack of access to energy is a major obstacle for regions that already experience problems in accessing capital. The GEEREF can mobilise private investments and become a real source of development, particularly in Africa, he added.
Yet, how often have we seen agreements, conventions, treaties and co-operatives promise much but delivered little; from the initiative offered by the European Parliament in response to the Rio Earth Summit process, to the National Indicative programme, World Trade negotiations, the Fourth Lomé Convention, and Regional Economic Partnership Agreements. Moreover, when many of these schemes were brought into question, talks usually fell apart leaving an unresolved state of affairs, which ultimately sent many developing countries down a slippery slope.
Nevertheless, I worked tirelessly to deliver the GEEREF to the Nigerian people. Today, you cannot get a straight answer on the GEEREF; repeated calls to reach the Commission’s Environment Commissioner and his colleague Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, for comments have fallen on deaf ears, allowing for a conceivable deduction that sub-Saharan Africa remains a lesser priority.
An old African adage says a man who was once tossed by a buffalo, on seeing a black ox, thought it was another buffalo. Subsequently, despite claims by the European Commission, that it is committed to a partnership with emergent and transition countries, clearly, development wished by others is inferior, and comes if at all at a snail’s pace.
Africa continues to face many development challenges. Many of its states are weak, with mostly basic economies at best and hardly any value added before export. Similarly, the manufacturing base; power, i.e. energy, transport, roads and communications infrastructure are under strength, along with Managerial and skilled-worker capacity.
Recently, a CNN production entitled “Trapped,” aired in Germany. The production featured aspects of human trafficking in Nigeria, including wretchedness and destitution; it was heart rending. Poignantly, why do Africans in alarming numbers [often placing themselves in grave danger] continue to migrate to Europe, and elsewhere?
Is Africa equipped to join the rest of the world and be accounted as worthwhile?
Can its nations have vibrant economies, or are they condemned to perpetual poverty, political and economic insignificance?
Certainly, Africa can be turned around and made to compete with the best in the world, but to overcome inertia will require mettle, a total change in thinking and behaviour. Feed a person today, tomorrow he/she will be hungry again. One way of transforming lives is through job creation – putting people to work. Disbursing financial resources to fight malaria, HIV-AIDS, or saving children’s lives is welcomed, but imagine the impact on a family, if parents can be employed, children go to school, and they can buy the drugs themselves to fight the diseases. Is that not a wonderful opportunity, is that not the way forward?
Against all odds, numerous African women have developed businesses – some of them world class. A Nigerian entrepreneur makes children’s clothes, which she started as a hobby and has now grown into a business; to a stage where she even got an order from Wal-Mart, for 10,000 pieces. Similarly, a Rwandan national opened a flower business and is now exporting to the Dutch auction in Amsterdam, each morning. She employs 200 other women and men to work with her. These are shining examples that Africa has its share of stoic, capable, focused and diligent people. Regrettably, many others with entrepreneurial talents are cash-strapped and entangled in a vicious cycle of ill-advised policies underpinned by lack of vision, greed and corruption.
There is no harm in reasoning outside of a box; in fact, this should be encouraged because business environments are constantly evolving.
The bulk of money used by the least empowered groups to operate their micro-businesses comes from friends, family members, or distant but concerned persons, interested in some little margin of income at a due period.
Micro-finance Executives ought to be given the opportunity and necessary support to articulate the broad range of financial services available to people excluded from conventional banking.
Did you know that growth in the micro-finance sector could help redirect lending patterns, and if micro-finance lending survives in Africa, micro-finance institutions stand to realise significant windfalls?
A Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) estimates that over 500 micro-finance banks will be needed for the drive; this implies remarkable opportunities that can transform lives.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be a catalyst for change. It is globally driven and by taking into account local peculiarities and stakeholder expectations, CSR seeks to define and encourage acceptable corporate behaviour. Besides, owing to its multifarious influence on socio-economic development and world peace, social responsibility cannot be ignored. To this end, more CSR intervention is needed.
However, I am acutely aware, that given the inadequate structured administrative governance and due process in Africa, issues requiring social responsibility interventions are enormous. Nevertheless, relenting is not an option; there are creative and non-confrontational ways to achieve desired results.
Empirical evidence shows that electricity is vital for development and enough has been written about this to fill a library.
From the small bakery to hair and beauty salons, Internet cafes, hospitals, welders, hotels, ice-block vendors, manufacturing, or service industries, these groups continue to commit huge financial resources towards generators, fuel and maintenance services; money that could have been ploughed back into growth and development.
Look at the simple chewing stick; it remains a largely untapped industry. Chewing sticks could be standardized for local consumption or even export, but then one is faced with an emerging environment issue; cutting of trees to produce chewing sticks, but even this can be countered by embarking on massive tree-planting campaigns. This is clearly a win-win scenario; whilst the environment would benefit through greenhouse gas reductions, and income-generating jobs would be created, you still need reliable electricity.
Georg W. F. Hegel [1770-1831] believed the various periods of the world’s history are manifestations of an “absolute mind” striving to realise itself in a state of perfection. Moreover, the character and actions of all individuals are determined by their own culture, preceding cultures and historical events, Hegel added. Karl Marx [1818-1883] held a view that human characters and actions are economically and socially determined by an evolutionary process led from early agrarian economics, through monarchies and feudalism, through the rise of the middle class and industrialism, to capitalism and eventually to socialism.
Should we reject Hegel’s comment about an “absolute mind” striving to realise itself in a state of perfection, his remark that the character and actions of all individuals are determined by their own culture, preceding cultures and historical events, is incisive.
Nigeria is a very dynamic country with very dynamic people. For this reason, predicting which way the future will turn is difficult. Nevertheless, there is some comfort in focusing more on precedence. Lately, whilst many sectors opened up and have done remarkably well, others are beginning to understand Nigeria’s economic potential. I am inclined to think that perhaps in a few years we will see many interesting developments.